Published on: 01/12/06
At times, Venessa Mayes-Duke doesn't know whether to count blessings or tally teardrops. Often, she does both.
Such is the lot of a parent seeing her child's dream rewarded.
The Norcross resident's son, Wesley Duke, toiled his way onto the roster of the Denver Broncos, who begin a Super Bowl quest Saturday against New England. This despite being an undrafted rookie who hadn't played football in six years, with three knee operations and plenty of misery in between.
Wesley Duke may be a strapping 6-foot-5, 225-pound tight end whose suffering-to-success tale swept the Mile High City, but to Mayes-Duke, he is still her precious little boy.
"In the beginning, I was scared at heart," Mom says. "I just didn't want him to get hurt again. It's all so exciting to him, but you never want to see your child's heart broken, and things not turn out the way they wanted."
Like when Wesley tore a knee on the first play of his senior football season at Meadowcreek High. Or, after landing a basketball scholarship to Mercer, how the knee crumpled again. Then once more.
Overcoming all the hardship, Duke — raw, yet industrious, smart and determined — made the Broncos' roster. Good things came to one who waited — and worked. But Duke was inactive early in the season and then was waived.
Venessa Mayes-Duke's heart sank once more.
"As a mother, I'm almost always on pins and needles," she says. "That was the hardest part of Wesley's adjustment, seeing people get cut, and you have to live with that all of the time."
However, Duke cleared waivers and was promoted to Denver's practice squad. On Nov. 20, he made his NFL debut, and a month later, Duke's first NFL catch, at Buffalo, proved noteworthy. Running a fade route, he snatched a TD pass.
Wesley Duke had fully arrived.
"I kept playing it back to make sure he was doing everything he was supposed to," Mayes-Duke says. She knows a thing or two about the game.
Her late brother, Rufus Mayes, was an NFL offensive lineman after an All-America career at Ohio State.
Now, she and her sister and daughter, who have attended several Broncos games, find themselves guiding Wesley — in ways far more significant than football.
"We've been trying to make sure Wesley doesn't get caught up so much in the surroundings," she says. "It's like church. You think this may be the greatest place, then you join and meet 'Sister So-and-So,' and 'Brother So-and-So,' and find out it's about the people. And we all fall short.
"Then it's not so glamorous."
Mom spends quality time on bended knees.
"He's in a different world now, making the transition into his manhood. It's like he's on a crash-course in growing up."
Not, however, without looking back.
"When you have had adversity in your life, like Wesley, you don't get as star-struck," Mayes-Duke says.
"You know nothing is promised, and you try to get the best out of every day. Thankfully, he has been able to carry himself with character.
"So to see him doing what he enjoys, and making money at it, that's a rare thing in life. But he's a good person, and he deserves it."
Let the blessings flow.